Isabelle McCalla on Finding the Comedy in CLUE at Paper Mill Playhouse
Isabelle McCalla has found great success on the stage in recent years from starring in Aladdin to The Prom, for her latest role, she headed to New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse for their hilarious farce murder mystery Clue. As the French maid Yvette, McCalla joins an all star cast that includes Kathy Kitzgerald, Michael Kostroff, John Treacy Egan, and more.
I recently caught up with McCalla via Zoom to discuss her love of the board game, what mysteries mean to her, and why we just might need to see Candyland on stage next! Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
So how is it going out there in Millburn, New Jersey?
It's going pretty fantastic. The show itself is a joy to do, it is a high jinks rollercoaster that is full of mayhem and murder and a lot of good laughs. I think I can speak for the company in terms of COVID safety and that we all feel extremely taken care of. It's also just nice to be doing a comedy right now. People are starved for escapism and something to focus on other than the drudge of COVID and Omicron and all of that. So overall I would say it's going really well — I'm very thrilled to be out here in Millburn right now!
You have had some wonderful roles over the past few years, but this one seems like you are just having the most fun up on that stage. Does this production feel different for you?
I've been blessed to play some fantastic female empowered roles from Jasmine to Alyssa Green, but I've always wanted to do an ensemble comedy and a play. This is actually my first professional play and my first professional ensemble comedy! This movie our play is based on is actually my favorite comedy movie of all time, so I’m truthfully living out a dream. I'm also on stage with the funniest actors in the world and I'm really just trying my best to not break. From Kathy Fitzgerald to Alex Mandel — I just lose my mind and have to bite the inside of my cheek. I'm laughing all the time, it’s such a gift. It is also my first live show back, so very special all around.
Were you a fan of the board game growing up?
So my mother is big into board games and Clue was the first board game I remember playing. We would play every Friday night and I would even have sleepovers where we would play Clue all the time. I always played Miss Scarlet, my mom was always Mrs. Peacock, my brother was Mr. Green, and my father was always Professor Plum. I even had the extended version where they had the nine rooms and then the nine weapons but I'm pretty partial to the original!
And then I know you just mentioned the movie world. What is it about this movie that is so special to you?
This movie is why I fell in love with ensemble comedy because I think they bring together an incredible group of comedy legends, from Tim Curry to Madeline Kahn to Martin Maul all with a totally original script, and the writing is just so smart. You got to see your beloved board game characters coming to life in such a wild way. And I mean, like most people, I fell in love with the iconic Madeline Kahn moment when she forgot her line and they kept rolling — she is just so brilliant. It’s also just so quotable, I quotet it far too much in my life but I'm not mad about it.
And the cast that the team at Paper Mill has assembled…10s across the board.
They're legends, they're legendary, they're brilliant. And I can't believe I get to learn and play with them every single day.
Are you a big fan of mysteries in general?
I grew up reading a lot of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie. Scooby Doo was my favorite television show, and when I was young, I wanted to be in the Mystery Gang so I would write episodes as a 10 year old child! I loved mysteries because for me, mysteries engage the audience in a way that other shows don't. Mysteries make you lean forward and turn on your prefrontal cortex and engage your critical thinking mind to be like: can I solve this before it's resolved? Which is always fun to do, and of course I love a good plot twist. It takes a lot to hoodwink me these days, so when I am I am always pleasantly surprised.
What other board game would you like to see turned into a live theatrical adaptation?
A live theatrical adaptation...hmm. Candyland might lend itself well - there could be some fantastical, comedic moment in there. We need something with distinctive characters!
I’ve been following you out and about on Instagram on your theatre adventures. What have you seen lately that you loved and what are you most looking forward to this season?
It's going to be stacked. I actually last night, I just saw Alex Edelman's one man show, Just For Us — it blew my mind. He really is such an incredible storyteller. I am looking forward to seeing Paradise Square and can't wait to catch Plaza Suite with SJP and Matthew Broderick.
Speaking of which, we have to talk about you being on "And Just Like That," tell me everything.
I binged the original series and I just loved it, of course. I was thrilled to get one day on set and to have that interaction with Sarah Jessica Parker. And she was nothing but lovely, incredibly professional, incredibly kind. What really struck me about her was her intelligence on set that she is so aware of the arc of a scene and how it should be. It was an awesome experience.
What do you hope audiences take away when they come to see this production?
It's a very good question. I hope they take away that life is too short. We have zero clue what the next hour holds. You gotta learn to enjoy it and be present and laugh if you can. Having the reminder that that life can be taken away at any moment hopefully allows you to be more present in where you are and enjoy what's going on. And also play the board game Clue, it's so fun!
For tickets and more information, visit here.